By Ashley Naftule, February 2019 issue.
How hard were Rosie the Riveter’s hands? Look at that famous symbol, and you’ll see a clenched fist, a curled arm, and fingers rolling up her sleeve — a badass maker, ready to get her hands dirty. But you don’t get to see her finger tips, the hardened skin on the palms, the telltale worn skin of someone who makes their bread working with metal and fire and grease. Rosie must have had powerful hands, working hands, like any good mechanic. Rosie got off lucky: She never had to deal with flesh and blood men demanding to see how “soft” her hands really were.
Real life Rosies aren’t so fortunate.
“I’ve been a technician for 20 years, on national TV, owned my own shop for 12-years,” Sarah “Bogi” Lateiner sighs, “and people still walk up to me and grab my hand to inspect it and say, ‘Do you really work on cars or do you just act on TV’? It’s amazing to me how much I still get that.”
The notion that technical trades are “men’s work” is so deeply ingrained in our culture that even watching Bogi expertly dismantle and restore cars on Velocity TV’s All Girls Garage isn’t enough to convince some men that she’s the real deal. But the Phoenix-based Lateiner is working hard to challenge that preconception.
Born in Flushing, Queens, Bogi is an accomplished mechanic with impressive academic credentials. Growing up in New Jersey under the care of “hippie parents,” Bogi got her nickname while studying in Hungary. “Bogi is the name of a bug in Hungary,” she says with a laugh. “It’s funny, all the girls I was friends with there were named after bugs. Like my best friend in Hungary — her name meant ‘Snail.’”
The name stuck. “My parents even call me Bogi now,” Lateiner says. “Sarah doesn’t even register with me as a name anymore; I don’t respond to it when people say it.”
Bogi graduated from Oberlin College with a double major in Law & Society and Women’s Studies, with a minor in Political Science. But her heart wasn’t in theory—It was in tinkering. Bogi made the fateful decision to move west, planting roots in the Valley to attend the Universal Technical Institute.
“UTI provided me with a great education and helped me get my foot in the door in the industry,” Lateiner says. Bogi didn’t know much about the school; she let other impulses drive her decision to move to Arizona. “The other schools were in places that were too cold. I had come to Arizona when I was 12 with my parents to hike the Grand Canyon. It was so beautiful out here.”
Bogi got lucky with her choice of school, but she admits that it could have gone differently. “Even when I took shop class in high school, it was never presented to me as a potential career path,” she says. “We were never given any information like, ‘Hey, if you want to continue with this, here are some schools that are better choices for you.’”
After becoming a mechanic, Bogi used both her technical skills and her background in social sciences to become an impassioned advocate for women joining the automotive industry. She would go on to open her own shop, 180 Degrees Automotive in Central Phoenix, which is staffed primarily by female mechanics. She also teaches basic classes in car repair and maintenance, showing women important motorist skills like checking air pressure, and how to change tires and air filters.
Bogi is part of a growing awareness that women have long been pioneers and innovators in technical fields. Documentaries about the impact that “Powder Puff Derby” women had in NASA and the aviation industry are helping rewrite history books that are dominated by images of daredevil male pilots. Claire Evans, from the band Yacht, authored 2018’s Broad Band, a book that reveals that most of the computer programming and hardware that makes modern civilization came from female scientists and engineers who dominated the field before men took over (and took all the credit). Bogi points out that this dynamic holds true in the automotive industry — while female mechanics may have always been in the minority, women were once heavily enmeshed in the automotive manufacturing industry.
“When men were at war, they basically had to get women to do these jobs,” Bogi explains. “That’s where Rosie the Riveter comes from. And when the men came home from war, they needed those jobs back. So there became this concerted marketing scheme to tell women that they were supposed to be at home to get them out of the workforce, so they could open those jobs up for the men who were coming back.”
Trying to get women to reclaim those jobs, in Bogi’s view, is a question of exposure.
“We don’t think about teaching our little girls how to work with their hands. I know a lot of women who aren’t in the automobile industry or do any kind of trade but have always wanted to learn; they just never had an opportunity. I had somebody say to me once, ‘you know, maybe there’s not as many women mechanics because women just aren’t interested in doing this work.’ And my reaction to that is, you don’t know you’re interested in something if you’ve never been exposed to it. I don’t know if I like escargot because I’ve never had the opportunity to try it.”
And while exposure is an important first step, Bogi thinks a big reason why so many people are intimidated by automotive work is the perception that the work itself is too inscrutable and hard to learn.
“There’s also a lot of mystique that people put on technical work,” she says. “I’m not saying it’s not complicated or difficult, but it can be learnt. A lot of it is just changing your perception. Look at your air filter like you look at the filter in your house or your vacuum cleaner or air purifier. You know when an air filter is dirty, but for some reason when it comes to cars we go, ‘Oh crap, it’s a car! It’s big and scary, and I don’t understand it.’ So, we stop applying things that we do know. And a lot of things about cars really are applicable to other things in life. When your tire is out of balance, it’s about the same thing as when your dryer is out of balance. That horrible noise the dryer makes when it starts to shake and rock all over the place — it’s the same thing with cars. The weight is out of proportion. Things aren’t in the right place. And when people make that connection, it stops being so scary.”
Last year, Bogi showed off the mechanical prowess of women by building a ‘57 Chevy pickup. She plans to kick off another build this year. And she continues to work tirelessly as a mentor and booster for women who want to get their hands dirty too. It makes her chosen name even more fitting: She has the determination and work ethic of a bug. But while other bugs build webs and hills and honeycombs, she’s busy building cars.